DISD educators use “Bee Bots” to bolster brainpower

Denison ISD’s youngest students are quickly becoming proficient at coding and programming robots, thanks to a generous grant from the Denison Education Foundation that put “Bee Bots” in every elementary school library. The goal, according to DISD Library Specialist Mindi McGehee: to stoke interest and proficiency in STEM learning that will continue to grow and improve at higher grade levels.

“When we first received the Bee Bots in the spring of 2018, I trained our library staff members to use the robots, then urged them to share that knowledge with their elementary staff…to use in their library class time with students,” said McGehee. “These Bee Bot programs have been in full use for almost a year now, and the feedback has been extremely positive.”

In addition to coding and programming the robots, McGehee says the elementary students are also learning and strengthening their problem-solving, strategizing and sequencing skills.

“From a math standpoint, they’re also learning to arrive at correct estimates and percentages through their hands-on work with the Bee Bots. They gain a sense of proportions and distance, which helps so much with problem-solving and estimating skills,” added McGehee. “It’s impacting their ability to think critically and analytically in so many positive ways.”

According to librarian Sabra Decker, the students at Lamar Elementary have embraced the Bee Bot program with gusto.

“It’s exciting to see the kids’ curiosity and excitement when they’re working with the Bee Bots…and the “aha!” moment when everything comes together and they truly get it,” said Decker. “One of our Kindergarten teachers bragged so much about her students’ success using the Bee Bots that it motivated other teachers to use them…and the Bee Bots have been a hot item ever sense. Once the kids master coding, they quickly become professionals at programming the Bee Bots to follow instructions and perform tasks. The potential for success at this level, and eventually at higher levels, is tremendous.”

That potential was abundantly evident on Valentine’s Day in Davina Mason’s early childhood classroom at Lamar, where excited students coded, programmed and operated their Bee Bot in groups of four.

“They have quickly learned to code and program the Bee Bot using a starting point, an ending point, and various points in between…to successfully navigate an established journey,” said Mason. “It’s a basic concept they can use and expand on as they move to higher grades where the systems will be increasingly more difficult.”

“I also think one of the significant advantages of this program is that it teaches our students to think through, plan, and work through a “problem” when it doesn’t turn out just right,” added Mason. “They have to figure out why it didn’t come together as it should…and try again. It teaches the soft skill of perseverance.”

Kerry Kaai, Principal at Hyde Park Elementary, says the Bee Bots reach and teach all students in ways that conventional teaching styles often don’t.

“The Bee Bots teach the way our young students have grown up learning about their world…digitally, technologically, hands-on and minds-on,” said Kaai. “The endless possibilities and situations provided by the Bee Bots encourage the students to ask questions and find answers using critical thinking skills. It’s applicable and meaningful learning at its best, because it provides the foundation that our kids need to eventually be successful in our global and ever-changing workplace.”

According to McGehee, research proves that students learn better when they have hands-on, real world experiences in their classrooms. “I truly believe that a wide variety of makerspace materials and technology tools belong in our libraries to help enhance the state’s curriculum. We’re very grateful to our Denison Education Foundation for providing the Bee Bot program as well as hundreds of other valuable teaching tools and programs. They’ve improved the educational lives of many thousands of Denison students. We can’t thank them enough.”

Young students in Davina Mason’s Lamar classroom watch excitedly as their Bee Bot makes its way along the path they programmed it to follow.

Davina Mason, early childhood teacher at Lamar Elementary, offers encouragement and assistance as students work to code and program their Bee Bot to travel a prescribed route. “One of the significant advantages of this program is that it teaches our students to think through, plan, and work through a “problem” when it doesn’t turn out just right,” said Mason. “They have to figure out why it didn’t come together as it should…and try again. It teaches the soft skill of perseverance.”

While classmates were busy coding and programming Bee Bots, sophomore Asia Medlin, an Education Intern in Nikki Douda’s class at Denison High School, helped a young student in Davina Mason’s Lamar classroom practice her writing skills.

Interactive learning continued in Davina Mason’s classroom Kitchen Center at Lamar, while other student groups worked in groups to code and program Bee Bots.

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